Hannah Taylor, F1 correspondent
Ferrari win comes after heavy rain stops play and action begins anew
Following an extremely action packed 14th FIA Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix, which was brought on by a deluge of rain and caused the race to be suspended temporarily, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the man of the moment when he took his 28th career victory as a result of the surprising turn of events.
Alonso commented on the dramatic events from the race, and expressed his feelings on picking up a surprising win.
“It was an incredible race! I am very happy, for me and for the whole team: I am proud of this fantastic group of people. While we have been going through this difficult time, no one gave up, in fact everyone has doubled their efforts to try and catch up… Our aim was damage limitation for these early races of the championship and now we even find ourselves leading the classification. Now we absolutely have to improve the performance starting right away with the races in China and Bahrain. We must get back to work immediately so as to find at least the two or three tenths that could put us back in the fight for the top places”, explained Alonso.
The unexpected results continued and especially where the second step on the podium was concerned. Sauber’s Sergio Perez amazingly took second place at the end of the race, which was an impressive achievement considering the conditions that the whole field had to battle through. The Mexican also has the team to thank, after the decision was made for him to pit on the first lap and change to full wet tyres. This early strategy in play appeared to pay off and make the rest of his Grand Prix, as Perez certainly gave the usual front runners a challenge and he put in some blistering lap times.
Perez was inevitably surprised by the second place that he achieved, and he explained how he felt after picking up such an unexpected result.
“It is a great day for me. The team did a very good job and I feel very happy for them. It is a really nice feeling to have been on the podium here, but I think victory was also within reach… It is only our second race in 2012 and I think we have a great season ahead of us. I knew we had potential to fight today, our car is not far away from the top cars and a good crew and driver can also make a difference in such conditions”, commented Perez.
Meanwhile, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton experienced disappointment after failing to convert his second consecutive pole position into a race victory. The Englishman appeared to have a fairly steady race initially, and maintained the lead from the start. However, after the re-start following the safety car period and short race suspension, the pit stop palaver of the rear jack getting stuck meant that he lost the lead and dropped slightly down the pack. As a result of the problems that occurred, Hamilton had to settle for a third place finish overall.
In the lead up to the race proceedings beginning there were concerns raised that the weather would soon affect the action taking place on the track. The initial speculation soon turned into a reality before the number of laps completed were even into double figures. However, there was one driver left stationary as the rest of the field started the formation lap. Hispania Racing’s Pedro de la Rosa suddenly appeared to be going nowhere fast, which led to him being safely rescued and he started from the pit lane in the end.
When the lights finally went out to mark the start of the race in the first instance, Hamilton maintained pole position well from his team mate, Jenson Button. Suddenly though as they approached the first corner after going down the long straight, the McLaren Mercedes duo were side by side and miraculously avoided any contact. Fortunately, as this was the case both drivers remained on the track and maintained their first and second positions respectively at that stage.
Meanwhile, there appeared to be chaos unfolding behind the first two drivers, as Lotus-Renault’s Romain Grosjean lost his third place to Red Bull’s Mark Webber as he rapidly fell down the field. Sadly, Williams’ driver Bruno Senna also suffered the same fate as Grosjean and lost places at the start. The Brazilian’s race at that early stage did not improve, as it appeared that he had contact with Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher who spun his car prior to the knock. Consequently, the pair had to face the consequences of their actions in this mishap, and Schumacher dropped down to 16th position as Grosjean was a little further behind in 18th place. At the same time as Schumacher having a miserable start to his Grand Prix, his German team mate and fellow countryman, Nico Rosberg was also in hot water as he fought for position with Perez. Luckily Rosberg’s fortune soon changed when Perez went into the pits for a tyre change, which meant that the pressure was slightly off him for a short while.
As the rain continued to fall over the Sepang circuit, the pit stop window arrived sooner than drivers and teams may have anticipated. The likes of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Alonso and Button were the first to blink and visit the pits for an essential tyre change.
Unlike some of the drivers who were temporarily out of the action due to pit stops, Grosjean’s race had already got off to an unfortunate start and was about to come to a sad end very quickly. The Frenchman was spotted off the track where he had ended up in the gravel, which spelt the end of his participation in the rest of the action and he did not get to make a much needed pit stop for tyres. It was later reported that Grosjean’s retirement after spinning off at Turn four, was not helped as his team mate Kimi Raikkonen was in the pits for his tyre change, when Grosjean had to stay out on the intermediate tyres.
Despite the treacherous conditions on the track, the tussles for position were very much in full swing. The two double World Champions, Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were scrapping for position on lap four. However, Vettel had the upperhand at the time and was running in fourth place ahead of the Spaniard. Interestingly, a similar situation occurred between Button and Schumacher, as Button caught the seven time World Champion at a vulnerable moment and passed by with ease into Turn seven.
Almost immediately after clearing Schumacher out of his way, Button then had a close encounter with his team mate Hamilton. The pair nearly came together as Button had quite a bit of speed at that point and nearly ended up going into the back of the 2008 World Champion at Turn three.
As a result of the majority of the field voicing their concerns on the weather and track conditions the safety car was deployed on lap six. Before this moment arrived Vettel had a slight wobble and went off the track momentarily. The double and reigning World Champion then went on to overtake Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne. The pair were then running in sixth and seventh place respectively as the safety car made an appearance to control the proceedings on the track.
Due to the impossible conditions on the track that the drivers were struggling through, even with the safety car in place the FIA took the decision to suspend the race temporarily on lap nine. This meant that the entire field with just 23 drivers remaining in the race had to form up on the straight and were then in running order rather than the starting grid order. Unfortunately, the drivers and teams then had to play the waiting game, as the rain continued to fall and the conditions were deemed to dangers to continue racing then.
Before the time came when the race had to be stopped, there were some drivers that had made their way up the field unexpectedly. The winners at this point in time relating to tyre choices, included Hispania Racing, and in particular for Narain Karthikeyan who found himself in 10th place on lap seven. Vergne had also done well even though the race had barely begun. The Frenchman is of course only into his second Grand Prix of his rookie season this year. While the race was suspended and the cars were lined up on the grid, Vergne then had the opportunity to have his tyres changed. Under the FIA rules and regulations the teams are permitted to carry out a necessary work on the cars on the track at this point which included free choices with tyre changes.
For what may have seemed like a very long wait for the drivers and teams, the race was confirmed to re-start at 17:15 local time behind the safety car. It was also compulsory that the cars must all be running with wet weather tyres fitted to them. There was also confirmation at this stage that the DRS would be disabled until it was deemed safe to be in operation again.
When the race was underway at last on lap 10 but still with the safety car at the helm, it seemed that De la Rosa’s progress within it would be delayed momentarily. Sadly, the Spaniard’s day was going from bad to worse after his delayed start earlier on. He was then under investigation by the stewards for personnel still being on the grid as the race re-started. The stewards appeared to waste no time in coming to a decision on the issue, and De la Rosa was soon forced to serve a drive through penalty as punishment. Following his visit through the pit lane, De la Rosa re-joined the race in 17th place.
Meanwhile, towards the front of the field and Button was unexpectedly under pressure from Perez. Unfortunately, Button lost his second place but then went on to pit and Hamilton joined his team mate soon after when he made his stop. When the time came and Hamilton was temporarily out of the way, this led Perez to take over first place on lap 14. Despite this new territory at the front of the field and not normally used to have a clear road ahead, Perez appeared to handle the situation well and proved he deserved to be there which reflected the lap times he put in. Not long after his promotion into first place Perez was the fastest man on the track, even though the times were slightly off normal ones due to the weather. He topped the timesheets with a lap of 2:04.969secs on lap 15.
Sadly, Button’s fortune in the race was deteriorating at this stage and he found himself coming together with Karthikeyan. The 2009 World Champion was forced to pit for a new nose and new front tyres after suffering a puncture as well. Consequently, he re-joined the race way down in 22nd place.
Even though Perez appeared to be in control at the front of the pack, it appeared that Alonso wanted to muscle in on the action as he successfully took first place on lap 16. There were similarities in terms of action on the track between the front and midfield at this point. As there was a healthy battle unfolding between Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo who took 14th place from Senna on lap 19 and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi was also in the mix as well in 13th place.
Despite the DRS being enabled on lap 20 to assist with potential overtakes, Button was having problems at the back of the field. After reporting via the team radio that he had issues getting heat into his tyres, this meant that he may be overtaken rather than the one doing the overtaking. However, Vettel appeared to have no such problems towards the front of the pack. The German appeared to be on a charge on lap 23 as he put his DRS and KERS to use, which was a success as he jumped into fourth place ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. This then led the way for the likes of Raikkonen and Webber to pounce on Rosberg as he appeared to be struggling for pace. Similarly, Rosberg’s string of bad luck appeared to be rubbing off on his team mate Schumacher. The pair suddenly came under threat from their midfield rivals. Schumacher lost out to Senna who made an easy overtake stick on lap 25.
For some the midfield runners the race appeared to favour some, as the progress and results of Perez and overtakes from Senna proved. This came to the forefront of the action when the race was just over half distance. Senna continued his manoeuvres as he took on Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Massa and Vergne were also on the scene at the time.
Following lots of scraps for position between the midfield runners, this meant that there was a shakeup in terms of the running order. It was then noticeable how some drivers had quietly crept into the action, and where some had appeared to keep themselves out of the limelight. Force India’s Paul Di Resta was one driver who suddenly appeared from nowhere, and was running in seventh place in lap 28. Where the back of the field was concerned though, with the exception of mainly Schumacher, Rosberg and Button who had problems that led them there, the likes of Williams’ driver Pastor Maldonado, De la Rosa, the Caterham duo Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen and Marussia’s Timo Glock and Charles Pic, all seemed to just be getting through the laps in their own little world.
Back at the front of the field though and Raikkonen and Webber were scrapping over fifth and sixth places respectively. Perez was also making tracks just a little further ahead of them, as he was topping the timesheets from one minute to the next, with lap times ranging from 1:57.647secs on lap 32 to 1:54.018secs on lap 38. Nevertheless, Alonso was still maintaining first place with his prancing horse and Hamilton was holding onto third place just behind the top two.
While Alonso had the proceedings very much in control, even with Perez closing down the gap with his blistering lap times, his Brazilian team mate Massa found himself scrapping for position down the field with Button. Initially, Button had the upperhand as he caught Massa napping on their way around Turn two on lap 35. Massa’s situation then worsened as Ricciardo managed to pass by and take 17th place from him. As a result of this bad spell for Massa in the Grand Prix, he took the decision to pit on lap 40 for a tyre change. Unfortunately, this did not improve his chances on the track though as there was a delay in getting the right rear wheel onto his car.
On the other hand, following Ricciardo’s pit stop for a tyre change and going onto the slick tyres, this appeared to be the right time and decision to do so as proved by his lap times. Around lap 41 the Australian topped the timesheets with a lap of 1:49.800secs. As the next pit stop window appeared to have arrived, some of the drivers followed the trend and opted for slick tyres as well. This included the likes of Senna, Di Resta and Webber. Hamilton was also among those who took their chance to pit at this stage and he re-joined the race in third place. Inevitably, Perez took the lead when Alonso had to make his pit stop, as he took the decision to continue racing on at that point.
However, an exciting piece of action occurred in the pits at this stage as a pit stop race took place. Vettel entered the pits first and upon exit from the pits, Raikkonen was close by but the pair managed to avoid contact luckily. Hamilton and Perez then made their pit stops after their rivals had completed them just minutes before.
As the slick tyres appeared to be the favoured tyre towards the last 10 laps of the race, and the conditions had also improved as well it seemed that it was the right one to go with. Webber was the first man to prove this as he set the fastest time with a lap of 1:45.975secs on lap 42 from fifth place.
Maldonado also jumped on the band waggon and competed with this time all the way from 11th place. The Venezuelan driver topped the timesheets with a 1:43.967secs soon after Webber made his mark on his competitors.
While the lap time contest was in progress all over the field, Di Resta lost a place to Senna who was running well and got into seventh place as a result of their battle on lap 44. Perez was having a different experience in second place though, as he has normally appeared to be one of the midfield being chased rather than being the chaser. On lap 45 his progress was remarkable and he topped the timesheets once again with a lap of 1:42.758secs. Consequently, there was still time on Perez’s side to potentially catch Alonso and threaten his hold on first place. Suddenly, the tables appeared to turn in Perez’s favour as he found himself even closer to Alonso as they went down the straight on lap 46. Unfortunately, Perez was not able to get close enough at that point, but it was certainly a moment for Alonso to see the Sauber in his mirrors.
When 10 laps were remaining of the 56 lap marathon, the battles were still very much alive for position across the pack. Button had managed to gain momentum and improve his position, on lap 46 the Englishman got into 15th place after passing Rosberg.
As Button appeared to be getting back on track, some of the usual front runners had sudden problems. Unexpectedly, Vettel suffered a left rear tyre puncture on lap 48 and had to gingerly go to the pits and have a replacement fitted. Although Vettel lost out at this point and dropped down the running order to 12th place, his team mate Webber benefitted and took over fourth place. It was reported that Vettel had clipped Karthikeyan’s front wing, but it was a little too close for comfort as a result of the puncture. The incident between the pair also made part of the track like an obstacle course as some of the debris from Vettel’s tyre was scattered around.
Meanwhile, where the battle at the front was concerned, as Perez was edging ever closer to Alonso, his chance arrived on lap 49 down the main straight with KERS and DRS in use. Unfortunately, he failed to catch Alonso after running wide at Turn 13 as his car mounted the kerb momentarily. This worked in favour of Alonso who had the pressure off him once again, and he could drive off into the distance and build up the gap. Even though Perez had this minor blip he remained in second place, unlike his Japanese team mate Kobayashi, who suddenly retired from the race when Perez was closing in on Alonso.
Where the front runners and occasional midfield drivers were concerned, in terms of setting the pace in the closing stages of the race, Raikkonen had his time to shine on lap 51 as he topped the timesheets from fifth place with a lap of 1:41.040secs. Webber went on to better this though by a small margin as he set the fastest time on lap 53 with a 1:41.017secs.
On the other hand, those setting the pace were not in the same position as Alonso, who was on course to pick up the victory as the midfield scraps continued until the chequered flag.
There was a three way battle between Vergne who was ahead in eighth place, Hulkenberg came next in ninth place, ahead of Maldonado who was on the tail end of the scrap. As Maldonado appeared to pick up the pace on lap 53, he was running well and gradually catching Hulkenberg. Sadly, on the penultimate lap Maldonado had a smoking engine which resulted in him falling down the field and he finished in 18th place. When Maldonado appeared vulnerable this led the way for Schumacher to pass by and collect the final top 10 point scoring position. Maldonado was sensible when his engine went though as he swiftly retreated to the pits at the end of the race.
As well as Maldonado’s miserable end to the Grand Prix, Vettel could sympathise as he shared a similar fate. There were reports via the team radio for Vettel to retire from the race on the penultimate lap, as his engine was about to give way and then there was an instruction for him to keep going until the end. As a result of the final decision to nurse his car until he crossed the line, he slipped down the field and ended up finishing in 11th place just out of a point scoring position.
While the top three drivers in the form of Alonso, Perez and Hamilton took centre stage on the podium, the rest of the field crossed the line to take their final positions. Webber narrowly missed out on a podium finish as he picked up fourth place ahead of Raikkonen. Senna drove a solid race and put some daredevil manoeuvres into practice, which resulted in a very well deserved sixth place finish and he managed to pip Di Resta to it in the end. As one of the rookies in the field this season, Vergne did exceptionally well to pick up eighth place for himself. While Di Resta’s German team mate, Hulkenberg just got ahead of Schumacher to score a few more points in ninth place. As a result of being beaten by his team mate results wise, Ricciardo could only manage to secure 12th place at the end of the Grand Prix. Rosberg also suffered the same fate as he too lost out to his team mate, and lines up alongside Ricciardo to secure 13th place overall. Button is the third driver in this trio to miss out on the points and end up with his team mate getting ahead. He finished the race just behind Rosberg to take 14th position. Massa is another one in the line-up on unfamiliar territory as he slipped down the grid and came in 15th place. While Petrov, who appeared to keep himself out of the limelight quietly crossed the line to take 16th position ahead of Marussia’s Glock. Petrov’s Finnish team mate, Kovalainen was the other side of the German, as he secured 18th place for himself. Maldonado ended up way down the field after his engine blew on the penultimate lap, which resulted in his 19th place in the final standings. While Glock’s French team mate, Pic got ahead of the two Hispania Racing cars to take 20th place. Karthikeyan was the second to last driver to finish the race of the 22 that did. In the process of picking up 21st place, Karthikeyan beat his team mate as well. With this in mind, De la Rosa had to settle for the 22nd and final place in the line up.
As only two drivers retired from the race it meant that a few more have got some points to their name. In terms of the Drivers’ Standings, Button has inevitably lost his initial first place from the win in Australia and now holds third place with 25 points. Alonso is promoted into the top spot with 35 points to his name, and Hamilton is in the middle with 20 points at present. There is only one point between Button and Webber, who has 24 points in fourth place as the Standings indicate. Following Perez’s exceptional effort in today’s race, he is in fifth place and just two points behind Webber. Meanwhile, Vettel is slightly out of the picture at the moment, and he holds 18 points to his name in sixth place. Raikkonen also managed to pick up some points and has 16 points after the first two races. Senna and Kobayashi are currently tied on eight points in eighth and ninth place respectively. Di Resta comes next as also being a point scorer already this season. The Scotsman has seven points at present in 10th place. After getting into the top 10 by the end of the race, Vergne has been rewarded with four points, and his team mate Ricciardo is next with two points in 12th place. Hulkenberg also has two points like Ricciardo but is just behind him in 13th place and Schumacher is the last of the current point scorers in 14th place with one point.
Where the Constructors’ early battle is concerned, McLaren Mercedes have 55 points at the top, and Red Bull trails them in second place with 42 points at present. Ferrari come next in the line-up with 35 points so far, and Sauber are just sitting below them in fourth place with 30 points. Lotus-Renault are making steady progress in fifth position with 16 points and are in front of Force India who have nine points at present. Williams are just one point below Force India and they are in seventh place. Of the final two teams that have picked up some points after just two races, Toro Rosso are leading from Mercedes, and have six points at the moment, while the latter have gained one point from today’s last minute result in the top 10 with Schumacher.
After a very memorable 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, which was affected by the weather and led to a safety car situation, and was then suspended until the conditions improved, the new season is already delivering mixed results and some of which go right down to the penultimate and final laps of the race. It appears that together with the developments on the new cars and changes in the rules and regulations, there is no clear winner in terms of driver or team in a race yet as they are starting to find their feet. Consequently, this makes way for an exciting time as the rest of the season plays out. It seems that there is no significant divide either between the usual front runners, who now find themselves elsewhere in the field and vice versa. The Formula One fraternity now have a period of just three weeks, in which they can recover from an eventful race that took place this weekend. They will also see it even more so as a time to prepare for their next challenge, as the teams and drivers put their rivalry into action for the Chinese Grand Prix.